MARIETTA, Ga. -- In a battle for the 2013 17u WWBA National Championship, two Orlando area teams met in a game that went back and forth and kept everyone on the edge of their seats until the game was decided in the bottom of the seventh.
As soon as Orlando Scorpions Prime shortstop Brendan Rodgers crossed the plate to give his team the 3-2 win over FTB Chandler the dugout erupted. Players met each other on the third base line with leaping hugs, chest bumps, high fives and, of course, a dog pile near the pitchers mound.
‘Phenomenal’ was the word Scorpions coach Matt Gerber used to describe the moment his team won the title, the first title they’ve won at the WWBA.
It was anything but an easy ride for the Scorpions Prime, though. On their way to a 9-0 record in the tournament, the team scrapped together a total of three 1-run victories, including an 8-7 comeback win against the Rawlings St. Louis Prospects after being down 6-0.
“We had two come-from-behind wins in the playoffs,” said Gerber. “Our guys are really talented, but they also play together as a team and they really battled, so that’s a testament to the guys here.”
In their impressive run the Scorpions Prime outscored its opponents, 48-18. They hit .294 as a team (63-for-214) and posted a 1.61 earned run average on the mound, with 69 strikeouts in 61 innings. Foster Griffin was the anchor to the rotation, winning MV-Pitcher for the tournament.
The 6-foot-5 southpaw posted mind-blowing stats, throwing 9.1 shutout innings, surrendering only three hits and two walks while striking out 18 hitters. His fastball sat between 87-89 mph, touching 91, but his best offerings were his off-speed stuff.
“I was really feeling it with the off-speed stuff for strikes,” Griffin said. “That really helped keep the other guys off-balance.”
Griffin came up big in the semi-final game against Marucci Elite on Friday morning, a team loaded with future Division I talent. Marucci could not figure out Griffin as he threw six shutout innings and struck out 11 Elite hitters for the win.
“I gotta give the credit to the guys. They had some great plays behind me,” said Griffin. “They (Marucci Elite) had a big guy up with a guy on second and he hit it to left-center and they (Orlando) threw him out at home and kept ‘em at zero.
“I had a lot of confidence in my team – getting ahead and letting the guys hit and then my defense make the plays (and) not trying to strike everybody out. That helped a lot to be able to get command of the zone.”
Gerber couldn’t be happier with the way Griffin pitched this week, mentioning his competitive drive.
“He’s got premium stuff, but he wants the ball in big situations. That was evident when we brought him in for his first appearance,” Gerber recalled. “He came in with the bases loaded and a 2-0 count and he got that out (and) set us right back on track. Then (he) just set the tone against a very good Marucci team and really just dominated the entire game.”
Jesse Lepore got the nod to toe the rubber in the championship game against FTB Chandler and he went six strong innings, giving up just two earned runs while striking out five in the no-decision.
“Jesse Lepore definitely went out and pitched his heart out – commanded the zone well (and) kept the other guys off-balance,” said Griffin. “Then we just had a lot of timely hitting that really helped us out.”
FTB jumped out on top in the second inning after Bo Bichette hit a one-out double to right-center field and came around to score on a hard hit ball by Tyrone Perry.
Orlando tied it up in the third when Logan Warmoth hit a line drive single to left field for an RBI. They then took the lead in the fifth when Dash Winningham drilled the ball to deep center field for an RBI double. No lead was safe in this game.
After FTB Chandler came back to tie the game in the top of the seventh, 2-2, the Scorpions were able to plate the winning run in the bottom half of the frame and win.
“We played a great opponent. FTB is a very, very good team,” said Gerber. “We’re fortunate to come out on top. Both teams battled and it was a good ball game.”
After rain kept some teams from starting their tournament until day three or four, a modified playoff bracket made it so that every team faced a one-and-done situation, putting the pressure on over 260 teams to perform.
“I think the Perfect Game guys did a great job putting together the tournament and making sure it ran,” said Gerber.
“It’s the best tournament of the year. It’s what you look forward to all summer,” added Griffin, relieved to have played this week despite the weather. “It felt good to get the W.”
FTB Chandler shortstop Milton Ramos took home the tournament MVP trophy after an incredible performance at the plate.
Ramos was a jaw-dropping 15-for-21 (.714 AVG) at the plate with a .739 on-base percentage and a .952 slugging percentage. He had three doubles, a triple, seven RBI, and seven runs scored.
“I just went up to bat to have fun and help out the team,” Ramos said when asked about his tournament performance. “It’s just a very great experience. Hopefully God blesses me with a great opportunity again like this.”
Ramos is surrounded by talent on this FTB team, including Nicholas Gordon (No. 2 prospect for 2014), Cobi Johnson (No. 16), and Sean Reid-Foley (No. 24).
“I love every second of it – just being with my friends, having fun, (and having the) best coaches I’ve ever been with,” Ramos said. “It’s great. I love it out here with my team.”
“It was a great opportunity,” Ramos, the Florida Atlantic University commit, went on to say. “We won a lot of games, played very hard, and never let ourselves down.”
Gerber was all smiles after winning the title, clutching the trophy with both hands.
“We’ve won several Perfect Game events, but we’ve never won this event and we talked about that going into this event -- how we wanted to get a banner so that when everybody walks in they see that banner and we did it,” Gerber said.
“They’re a great group,” said Gerber. “They compete and have fun.”
“You can’t beat this team,” Griffin said. “These are my boys and I’ll go to war with them whenever.”
2013 17u WWBA National Championship runner-up: FTB Chandler
2013 17u WWBA National Championship MVP: Milton Ramos, FTB Chandler
2013 17u WWBA National Championship MV-Pitcher: Foster Griffin, Orlando Scorpions Prime